responses to climate change are not truly global - James Stroud

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2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd .... K., Knowlton, N., Eakin, C.M., Iglesias-Prieto, R., Muthiga,. Diversity ... Timothy Perez and James Stroud are doctoral students at.

Diversity and Distributions

A Journal of Conservation Biogeography

Diversity and Distributions, (Diversity Distrib.) (2016) 1–4


Most ‘global’ reviews of species’ responses to climate change are not truly global Kenneth J. Feeley1,2*, James T. Stroud1,2 and Timothy M. Perez1,2


International Center for Tropical Botany, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA, 2Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, FL 33156, USA


*Correspondence: Kenneth J. Feeley, Department of Biology, The University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA. E-mail: [email protected]

Keywords climate change, climate change responses, geographic bias, global review, marine, taxonomic bias, terrestrial.

It is critical that we understand the effects of climate change on natural systems if we ever hope to predict or mitigate consequent changes in diversity and ecosystem function. In order to identify coherent ‘fingerprints’ of climate change across Earth’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems, various reviews have been conducted to synthesize studies of climate change impacts on individual species, assemblages and systems. These reviews help to make information about climate change impacts accessible for researchers as well as for the general public and policymakers. As such, these reviews can be highly influential in setting the direction of policy and research. Unfortunately, due to limited data availability, the majority of reviews of climate change impacts suffer from severe taxonomic and geographic biases. In particular, tropical and marine systems are grossly underrepresented, as are plants and endothermic animals. These biases may preclude a comprehensive understanding of how climate change is affecting Earth’s natural systems at a global scale. In order to advance our understanding of climate change impacts on species and ecosystems, we need to first assess the types of data that are and are not available and then correct these biases through directed studies and initiatives.

Anthropogenic climate change is a truly global phenomenon that has the potential to impact all species in all ecosystems. In order to gain a better understanding of the possible impacts of climate change, various studies have examined the responses of individual species or ecosystems to changes in climate through time. These studies have in turn been synthesized into a number of different reviews that attempt to identify ‘globally coherent fingerprints’ of climate change (e.g. Walther et al., 2002; Parmesan & Yohe, 2003; Root et al., 2003; Parmesan, 2006; Chen et al., 2011; Poloczanska et al. 2013; Lenoir & Svenning, 2015; Pearce-Higgins et al., 2015; Brown et al., 2016). These reviews are highly cited – often garnering many thousands of citations each – indicating that they can be highly influential in setting the direction of policy and research. Unfortunately, many ‘global’ reviews suffer from severe geographic and taxonomic biases that may preclude a comprehensive understanding of how climate change is impacting Earth’s natural systems (Lenoir & Svenning, 2015).

ª 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

GEOGRAPHIC BIASES IN GLOBAL REVIEWS Approximately 1/3 of the Earth’s land surface lies within the tropics (23.4° S – 23.4° N), and given the latitudinal species gradient, the vast majority of Earth’s species are tropical. Tropical ecosystems are, however, essentially absent from nearly all major climate change studies and reviews conducted to date. For example, in their landmark review claiming to have identified ‘globally coherent fingerprints of climate change’, Parmesan & Yohe (2003) reviewed the effects of climate change on the phenologies of nearly 200 species – none of which were from latitudes below 42.5° (the approximate latitude of Boston, MA, USA, or Rome, Italy). Collectively, Walther et al. (2002) and Parmesan (2006) synthesized more than 800 terrestrial and marine studies from around the world but included only a single study from the tropics. Similarly, Root et al. (2003) reviewed more than 150 studies of nearly 1500 species but included none from the tropics. Poloczanska et al.’s (2013) review of the ‘global imprint of climate change on marine life’ included only scant information from the tropics (35 DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12517


K. J. Feeley et al. of 1323 species responses = 2%) as did Brown et al.’s (2016) review of studies assessing distributional and phenological responses of marine species (the review of distributional responses included 418 species of which 61 [14.6%] were tropical, and the review of phenological responses included 109 species – none of which occur at latitudes below 32° which is the approximate latitude of Dallas, TX, USA, or Shanghai, China). Likewise, Pearce-Higgins et al. (2015) reviewed studies assessing the responses of more than 230 terrestrial species to long-term changes in temperature and precipitation. While the explicit goal of their study was to ‘examine global patterns in the response of species’ populations to climate variables’, only 19 species (8% of study species) from latitudes below 30° and only 4 species (

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